Kultur – Musik

A conversation with Height-Ashbury

A conversation with Haight-Ashbury

26. Jänner 2012 • Musik

“Looking forward to the winter, can’t be worse than the summer”. At least one good thing about this winter is the release of Haight Ashbury’s sophomore album “Haight-Ashbury 2 – The Ashburys”, released on February 27th via Lime Records/Rough Trade. We have already listened to the album (click here for a review in German) and obviously got quite psyched about it. One month prior to the release, the band from Glasgow played Vienna’s “Haus der Musik”, and we met Scott, Kirsty and Jennifer for an interview before and for some beers after the show, to discuss their new album, their recording process, San Francisco’s famous district and its influence on the band and many other things.
A conversation with Haight-Ashbury

A conversation with Haight-Ashbury.
(and Markus Brandstetter)

Let’s talk about your new album. What was the recording process like?

Scott: We did our first album over the period of two years, which was quite a long time. We hadn’t yet started working with a record label, and did not have any pressure. It was a bit different with the second one, we were doing a lot gigs and realized that we’d better start recording. One third of it were old songs that we still liked and re-did, aongs we played live but never recorded. The first album ended up running as one piece of work, and we took a lot of songs off of it that didn’t fit, songs that we still liked. The other part of the second album are new songs that are some sort of progression of the first.

Kirsty: It was done a lot faster compared to the first one, but it was really good funof fun. With the second one, we were a lot more comfortable, and went with what we thought it has to sound like.

Scott: We wanted it to be slightly different from the first one – it was more about the individual songs, while the first one was more one piece.

As the title contains „Part Two“: Do you see the new album as some kind of sequel, even if it’s a different approach?

Scott: Part Two is just in the title because we want people to know they should also buy our first one (laughs)

That’s a clever idea!

Scott: We started out thinking of it that way, but we were also very aware that we didn’t want to copy ourselves, and make something different. The first couple of songs follow the first album, but then it gets different.

The first album was released last April. So you’re quite fast!

Kirsty: With releasing? Yeah, that was quite fast. We even had the first one finished for quite a while, even though it wasn’t out yet.

Jennifer: To us it was quite old (laughs).

Kirsty: We are still a new band, and to a lot of people our second album will the first thing they hear from us. So hopefully the „Part Two“ will reference back and make people also listen to the first one.

Your first album was very well-received both by listeners and critics. There’s a saying: „For the first album you have all the time in the world, for the second one a couple of month“. Was there any pressure for you as a band?

Kirsty: It didn’t feel like that. It was weird. We were away doing gigs, and whenever we were back in Scotland we recorded a few songs each time, it went quickly and we didn’t really think about it. And then, before we knew it, we had a lot of songs we were quite happy with. Scott: It was a nice change. The difference is when you work that quickly, you don’t have too much time to think about „oh, I could changheree this and that“. Sometimes having a lot of time of course can make the whole thing better, but if you live with something for a long time you forget if it’s good or bad. Even if it’s a brilliant song: if you live with it for three month, it might get boring to you and you might think „Oh no, that’s not good enough“. But with limited time, you stay with your first impressions. Both approaches work, but it was a nice change from the way we did the first album.

Jennifer: It was quite fun to make quick decisions and be in the moment than rather analyzing every part of it.

So basically a more intuitive approach.

Kirsty: Yeah. Everything went well and we are happy with it. If we were given five years, we’d be going „Hmmm, does that work“ for all five years (laughs).

Chinese Democracy Style!

Jennifer: (laughs), yes.

What’s your writing process like? Is the band-structure a democracy where everybody writes together in sessions?

Jennifer: We come to each other with different ideas and try to put things together. That is quite obvious on the first album: some songs were seven minutes long and had loads of different parts in it. So one part might be a one and a half minute thing, and it joins together with other parts.

Scott: We didn’t necessarily always be together during the songwriting, but we always spent time practising in the rehearsal-studios, and added things. This time those ideas stayed three or four minute-songs, whereas for the first album we always added another part. It stayed flexible.

So it goes back and forth.

Scott: Very much during live and the studio. I think this album sounds more like we sound live. I hope.

Jennifer: Fingers crossed (laughs). You’ll see tonight.

Probably a question that you’ve already been asked one or two times – still,  as the name quite frequently occurs in your songtitles, album titles and in your bandname (laughs): We all know that Haight Ashbury was a popcultural epicenter – but to what degree did it impact you?

Kirsty: Obviously, in the "Summer of Love" there were a lot of bands that lived around the streets of Haight Ashbury, bands that have influenced us musically, in our style. Scott spent a lot of time travelling through the USA and Canada, and stayed in San Francisco for quite a while, where The Grateful Dead and other people that influenced him lived. When he came back and we made the band we thought the name Haight Ashbury might give people a clue what it would sound like. Also, Scott had a T-Shirt with Haight Ashbury with those two street signs, so that was sort of right in your faces. It seemed like a good idea. The second album is called „The Ashburys“, because friends call us that. Scott and I are brother and sister, Jen’s my best friend – and people just say, we’re going to the Ashburys. It was a nickname for the band, so we thought it would be a nice thing to call our second album. We go by that as our stage name.

Scott: That name wasn’t a definite decision from the beginning, as it now may sound like. It just came as a thought, „hey, that’s a cool name“. Some people also told us it’s a terrible name (laughs). „Hey, you’re not even American“… that doesn’t matter. A lot of bands are named after streets, and that was a particular cool name we thought. I think there’s also a band in Japan called like that, but they’re written differently, so it’s fine.

Don’t worry, there even were two Nirvanas.

Scott: Didn’t they have to give the UK-Nirvana money? No, wait – it was the American „Eagles“ who had to pay the British Eagles for the name.

So people like Jerry Garcia were a big influence?

Scott: Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead in particular. I didn’t get excessively into them, but I listened a lot to their first album. The really early years of both bands was what influenced me when I spent time there.

My association listening to the second album is, that it is a dark, gloomy version of that time.

Kirsty: Some people were quite surprised that there’s some darkness in it.

Jennifer: Maybe because of the singles that we released – they’re quite happy compared to the rest of the album, which is quite dark.

Kirsty: Yeah, it can be very poppy, but then five seconds later we get really dark. Maybe it is because we are two girls singing and people don’t expect that it can get that dark.

I particularly had that association when listening to the lyrics “Looking forward to the winter, can’t be worse than the summer“.

Scott: We really wanted to release that in September (laughs). Even if it was a good summer, just for that line.

Kirsty: We played that gig in Glasgow, and did some new songs. We finished the set with that line, and a guy came over and looked quite confused, asking us “why did you finish with that line? What happened that summer?“. He was being so serious depressed about it.

Scott: We always try to have the light and shade, but it’s an optimistic song.

Probably that’s a over-interpretation, but I related that line to the Charles Manson-side of the Summer of Love, as they say the Manson murders ended the Summer of Love.

Scott: That’s good. That’s we said. We’ll use that (laughs).

Jennifer: That makes more sense, great! (laughs). Scott: We got a magazine review in Glasgow, and they wrote „Winter Of Haight“. We thought, hey that’s good too, that’s even an album title.

Your homebase is still Glasgow, isn’t it? What’s the music scene there like?

Kirsty: Everyone is in a band. From that point of view, it´s very good. If you wanted to, you could play almost every night of the week. When we first started, we played about four times a week. We thought, we’d just get ourselves out there, get used to what we’re doing. At the same time it’s quite hard to move things outside of Glasgow, it’s a tight scene. To break away is quite difficult. For a Glasgow band to play Edinburgh is quite a big step, and the next step could be a show in London…

Scott: Glasgow is great for starting a band and playing gigs. It makes people better at playing music, but it does not bring forward your career. There are so many bands.

Kirsty and Jen, you two had a band together before Haight Ashbury started. That was more a pop-thing, wasn’t it?

Kirsty: Yeah, it was a pop thing. We were seventeen, right now we’re um….

Eighteen.

Kirsty: (laughs) Exactly. Jen and I have always been friends, and when we left school we were in that other band.

Jennifer: It was good fun.

Kirsty: We even went to Japan. It was fun, but we decided to do another thing. We always sang harmonies together, but we were moving to a darker side. That’s where Scott stepped in. To be honest, that one feels like our first band. We started playing live all the time with Haight Ashbury, with the other band, you performed two songs with backing tracks, and then another band came on stage at those popfestivals. With no disrespect to what we did in that other band, in many ways Height Ashbury feels like the first band we’re in.

Scott: Also you started playing bass, and you started playing drums for that band.

Kirsty: I played guitar in that last band, Jen played tamboruine.

After the band finished a great concert in Vienna’s House of Music, we sat together at the bar until closing time. As it turns out, Scott and I share a fanatism for Chris Whitley and discussed the songwriter’s greatness quite extensively. A fantastic band, both live and on record, and lovely people to talk to. Thank you to Ink Music for making this interview possible.

A german version of the interview is avaiable here.

Markus Brandstetter

Where there’s music and there’s people and they’re young and alive.

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